The Technological Innovations of WWI

tags: World War I

The man who would go down in history as the father of chemical warfare acted as his own guinea pig to test his invention. On April 2, 1915, Fritz Haber, the head of Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry, rode through a yellow-green cloud of chlorine gas on grounds used for troop exercises.

The experiment was successful. The scientist, himself a war enthusiast, began coughing convulsively; he grew pale and had to be carried away on a stretcher.

About three weeks later, German troops used chlorine gas for the first time on a mass scale during combat on the Western Front near the Flemish city of Ypres in Belgium, deploying a total of 150 tons of the substance. At first, French soldiers thought the shimmering cloud was intended as a diversionary tactic. But then, suddenly, they began flailing about with their hands in the air as they gasped for breath and collapsed on the ground. As many as 1,200 were killed and 3,000 wounded. Haber observed the event from a safe distance.

In military history, the deployment of chlorine gas in Ypres is considered the moment when weapons of mass destruction were born, and the rapid development of additional chemical weapons ensued. It was a development that revolutionized warfare and has manifested itself in many ways: from the use of toxic defoliants like Agent Orange in the Vietnam War to the more recent poison gas attacks in the Syrian civil war.

The use of chemical weapons in Flanders was the result of military desperation. The German army's initial invasion had already devolved into stationary trench warfare by the end of 1914 and was running out of munitions.

All sides were looking for a way to break through enemy lines at the time and they spent billions on the search. The result was an unprecedented advance in technology. Researchers invented mobile radio telephones, engineers constructed cannons capable of firing shells as far as 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) and fighter planes were flown into battle zones for the first time ever.

Even a century after Ypres, armed conflicts continue to spur technological advances. Wherever wars are fought, money flows into military innovations. The United States' War on Terror, for example, resulted in the addition of billions to the defense budget and also led to the development of killer drones and vastly complex surveillance technologies....

Read entire article at Der Spiegel

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